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March 10, 2009

Team Health Reports

St. Louis Cardinals

by Brad Wochomurka

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ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Head Trainer: Barry Weinberg
Player Days Lost: 1,520
Total Dollars Lost: $29.9 million
Injury Cost: $28 million

Trend: Negative. Weinberg and his staff certainly did a solid job with several players, but you still can't ignore the fact that this team has nearly tripled its days lost to injury since the World Series club of '06. That said, the Cards did have their fair share of freak injuries, and also a lot of holdover rehabs from previous seasons. The former is best represented by Chris Duncan, who will be playing in '09 with a titanium disk in his neck as he attempts to come back from a surgery that was the first of its kind for a professional athlete. The latter group includes players like Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Clement, Tyler Johnson, and Juan Encarnacion-all of whom were expected to miss most of, if not the entire, season. The training staff gets its biggest gold star for keeping Albert Pujols' elbow intact on his way to winning the NL MVP Award; there were questions at this time last year about how many games he could actually play, and 148 games later Pujols had another shiny trophy for his mantle. This season Weinberg and his staff will be showered with praise if Chris Carpenter can simply be a productive member of the rotation for most of the year. More realistically, they should be measured based on how healthy they can keep a group of fragile outfielders, the team's new ace in Adam Wainwright, and, once again, their power-hitting corner infielders.

The Shape of the Season:

graph

The Big Question: Matthew Leach, the Cardinals' beat writer for MLB.com, asks: "What sort of increased risks come with a move like the one Skip Schumaker is making from the outfield to second base?"

One of the first things the system will look for when assessing a player's injury risk is a position switch. Even a move from one outfield position to another is considered a slight risk-especially within the first 50 games after the switch. While it wasn't an infield/outfield shift, Schumaker did move seamlessly between all three outfield positions last year, so there is some baseline for him being able to change positions. However, he has never played second base before, so this is an entirely different animal. The big question is whether or not his body will be able to adapt to the everyday routine of doing something that it just isn't accustomed to. How will he handle the double play, or quick bursts to his left and right to snare ground balls? The transition has been a little rough so far this spring, to say the least, and being the work in progress that he is, Schumaker will probably spend more time than usual working on fielding drills as the season gets underway-another thing that could take its toll on his body. The normal switch is to move from the infield to the outfield as so many players have done, so there are almost no good comps with which to try and draw a baseline. The Braves' Kelly Johnson moved from the outfield to second base two years ago mostly to protect his surgically repaired elbow, but Johnson began his career as a shortstop, so that comparison has its limitations. Assuming that he's the everyday second baseman, Schumaker will start out rated red, but if he's able to make it through the first third of the season without incident, his risk level will begin to decrease significantly. In fact, Schumaker's case is so unique that it has generated its own category, and as a result, you won't see him listed under any of the designated colors below.

Fantasy Tip: Don't let Albert Pujols slide into the second round of your draft. OK, hopefully no one will make that mistake again, as we saw what he can do despite the pain in his elbow. Now that he's had surgery to eliminate that pain, he should return to his rightful place in the top five on most draft boards. Outside of Pujols, there are not many "safe" options in St. Louis. Every outfielder on this list comes with injury risks, yet they can all help when healthy. If I own Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, or Rick Ankiel, I'm selling as high as possible at the sign of their first hot streak. If they can stay healthy, their overall stat lines may look fine by the end of the season-a nice benefit to true roto players, but these three are the types of players to be more wary of in head-to-head leagues; their streakiness and health concerns can make them week-killers in that format.

3B Troy Glaus: Red light When the right shoulder pain that had plagued Glaus at the end of last season wouldn't go away by January, he was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery, and he'll miss the first month of the season. He has proven in recent seasons that he can play through multiple injuries, but one has to wonder if this injury might be the beginning of his ultimate breakdown. Are the odds in Glaus' favor? At 32 years old, he has more comparable players that fit the breakdown category for various reasons (Richie Sexson, Tim Salmon, Jose Canseco), than he does in the other direction (Frank Thomas, who had several big seasons in his late thirties).

RF Ryan Ludwick: Red light The "general soreness" that recently sidelined Ludwick in training camp is the perfect term to describe the career arc of a player who was widely considered to be a Quad-A type until his breakout season a year ago. His injury history is what lands him in the red, but he continues to hit when healthy. Taking that into consideration, along with what are now three straight relatively healthy seasons, I think it would probably be more appropriate to think of Ludwick as a high yellow.

LF Chris Duncan: Red light This year Duncan will be going where no professional athlete has gone before. There are no comps for the procedure that he underwent last summer to replace a cervical disc in his neck. Any time the term "career threatening" is thrown around the way it was before his surgery, you have to be cautiously optimistic going forward. With so little to go on, the analysis is simple; the procedure will either successfully extend Duncan's career, or his neck will continue to be a problem, one that ultimately won't go away.

SP Chris Carpenter: Red light There is no questioning the red status of this redbird, and few would be surprised if he never pitches effectively again. He's looked good so far this spring; after more elbow surgery this offseason, it's just another sign of his resiliency. Forget the All-Star selections and the Cy Young Award, the fact that he came back at all from the injuries suffered early in his career is impressive enough. Now to think he might do it again? Incredible.

1B Albert Pujols: Yellow light In a year when elbow pain dropped him to the bottom, or out, of the first round of most drafts, all Pujols did was to go out and win the NL MVP Award. Having undergone nerve decompression and transposition surgery last October, is there any reason to think that he won't be as good or better in '09? Not here! Pujols just hits, and he's done so through pain multiple times in his career. There's no reason to think he won't respond well to the elbow surgery, and he should reclaim his spot near the very top of most draft boards.

C Yadier Molina: Yellow light He's now two seasons removed from the knee surgery that ended his '07 campaign early, so Molina really isn't any more of a risk than a typical starting catcher. What's more, the defensive whiz returned from his '07 injuries to have a career year offensively in '08. I can't believe I'm actually going to type this, but last season's numbers are an indication that Molina is actually a relevant fantasy backstop. Wow... that felt weird.

CF Rick Ankiel: Yellow light As you may imagine, there really are no comparables when it comes to Ankiel. Regardless of his strange career path, he gets the yellow light, since he never seems to be fully healthy. It doesn't help that his first full season as a major league hitter ended early due to a sports hernia. There's depth in the Cardinals outfield, and that works both for and against him. It should allow the team to keep him as fresh as possible with an appropriate number of days off as the season progresses, but a significant injury could open the door for Colby Rasmus and others to come in and push Ankiel aside.

SP Adam Wainwright: Yellow light Wainwright is a very interesting study. The torn tendon in his middle finger that kept him out for two months during the middle of the season is his biggest issue at this point, but his workload patterns while bouncing from the rotation to the bullpen and back have been so odd that it's difficult to predict what his future might hold. He returned well from the tendon injury, but when a pitcher's ability to grip the ball is affected, it can take a full season without a recurrence to make sure that he's completely out of the woods.

SP Todd Wellemeyer: Yellow light Wellemeyer saw a huge spike in his workload in '08, but he showed that he could handle it just fine at the age of 30; he actually improved as the season went on. He has a track record of good health, and he'd be green if it weren't for the innings bump last year. Mike Scott and Tim Wakefield are some comparables here, so perhaps Wellemeyer can follow suit and remain effective well into his thirties.

SP Joel Pineiro: Yellow light Pineiro's history of shoulder and elbow problems would normally land him in the red, but outside of a brief DL stint for a groin strain last year, his health hasn't been an issue during his time in St. Louis. Pitching Coach Dave Duncan has helped Pineiro make a few adjustments, and the 30-year-old righty has responded. He didn't pitch well last season, and Duncan has said he wasn't happy with Piniero's conditioning in '08, so maybe an offseason of working out will finally allow him to put health and performance together for the first time.

RP Chris Perez: Yellow light The injury system doesn't like Perez very much, but in this case I don't really like the system that much. It sees a 23-year-old potential closer with only 41 innings of major league work, and that's usually a safe assumption for some risk. However, it also seems overblown; Perez has been brought along slowly, and Tony La Russa has been reluctant to throw him into the closer's role. Perez has been slowed by discomfort in his left foot this spring, the result of a malformed bone near his heal. He put off surgery on it this winter, and it may be a problem this season, as well as another reason that the system sees him as a risk. The pain has led to control issues-something that has plagued him throughout his long career. Call it a gut feeling, but Perez just doesn't scream "risk" to me the way that he perhaps should.

SS Khalil Greene: Green light He's green, but self-inflicted injuries have to count for something. He had declared war on a filing cabinet last year while with the Padres; he did not win. Greene will now try to prove to the Cards that both his broken right hand and his pride have been restored to full health.

SP Kyle Lohse Green light

CL Jason Motte Green light

Brad Wochomurka is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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